ME2: The Suicide Mission
"This is a Suicide Mission. We all came here prepared to die."
Special Challenge: Compare your own 'personal' suicide mission to the outcome of this one.
Play through it in your head. Feedback would be appreciated.
In case you didn't notice, Renegade Reinterpretations isn't a Utopian fic. It's not the most grim-dark universe out there, but it isn't happy-go-lucky. There are no free passes, and there are no victories bought without the lives of good and bad people alike.
This is a Suicide Mission.
People WILL die.
Don't let this stop you. The mission has always come first, no matter the cost.
The extent of that cost, however, depends on you. How many losses you take will depend on how focused your team is, and how well it is chosen.
Even the best of leaders lose people. Good leaders, however, lose fewer people.
Team Leader Specialists:
Being a leader isn't about personal skills, but about guiding and taking advantage of the people around you. It means knowing their strengths, and earning their trust so that they will follow you without hesitation. This requires experience, composure under fire, and most importantly inter-personal skills to be tolerated and accepted by the team you would lead... and someone others are willing to die under, because you would be willing to die for them.
Jacob, Garrus, and Mordin have spent the most time working in groups and successfully leading teams of various types in the past, and are the most out-reaching towards rest of the team. Not that they are without their flaws: though Jacob detests Thane the Cerberus assassin, while Garrus does have a history of rash temper, and while Mordin and the Krogan go together like vinegar and napalm, they all are able to leave personal issues to the side when it comes to battle. Miranda, the only volunteer after pointing these flaws out, is a false-flag, someone who has personal skill but not the trust of the team.
The cost of good leadership is disability. The team leader, in saving a member of their team from danger (as heard over the radio), is wounded. Though some medigel helps them soldier on and they survive and carry on as fighters, they are not at their best to focus on anything else: the 'hint' is that after the team-up, someone (Doctor Chakwas after the first walk, Mordin/Miranda/other after the second) will ask if they are feeling well while they look exhausted, to which the team leader will straighten up, lie, and say they are. The Wound distracts the team leader and makes them a BAD specialist for any other event. Anyone you use for team leader should not be used again for any position, or else they will count the same as 'unloyal'.
The cost of bad leadership is not only the Wound, but a death on the second team from the person who was not saved. The team leader survives, but someone else dies.
The key to delicate work is being able to remain cool under high pressure and even higher temperatures. Literally, in this case, as the infiltration specialist must crawl down a vent vent to be able to hack the base doors open for both teams from the inside of an exhaust port that could burn them alive in seconds if they aren't careful.
Kasumi, Tali, and Legion are the ideal infiltration/tech specialists, each from their histories and careers or expertise. Thane and Mordin are false-flags raised during the briefing: Thane because he's adept at infiltration and has used ventilation ducts before, and Mordin because he's the go-to tech expert and has studied Collector technology the most thoroughly. But Thane lacks the tech to quickly hack the doors, and Mordin lacks the sneaky-sneaky to keep the Collectors from noticing and turning on the exhaust early.
The cost of a good specialist is death by immolation. Though the initial plan involves for the re-united team to break open the vent and release the specialist, the release latch at the end is welded shut and will not open. Though the specialist successfully gets both teams past the doors, the Collectors vent the exhaust and burn the specialist to death in a matter of seconds.
The cost of a bad specialist is the death of not only the specialist, but a member of Shepard's fire team. The specialist is too slow at getting the second team in while Shepard's team is at the door, and the delay to relieving Shepard's team is the death of a team member as well as the specialist as the Collectors purge the vent.
The biotic barrier remains much the same, in concept and practice. With the removal of Jack, and the invalidation of Morinth, only Miranda and Samara are valid biotic specialists: no one else has the matriarch-level powers necessary. Morinth is too young (though she volunteers herself as a false-flag if present), and none of the other biotics can endure.
The cost of a good specialist is, like a team member, 'Wounding.' No one on Shepard's team will die, but specialist is considered 'unloyal' for any future specialist roles.
The cost of a bad specialist is the same as in canon: a member of Shepard's team is carried away by the seeker-swarms, while the specialist is Wounded.
When Shepard finds the Normandy Crew, Shepard also finds the Collector's own laboratories. The prospect of using the Collector's own tech against them is just too good to pass up as the Normandy crew is picked up by EDI and Joker.
Mordin and Okeer are the science specialists, who will whip up a batch of mad science while the rest of the team go ahead. What they come up will be a boon for going deeper into the base, but each scientist sees their own way as best.
Mordin's approach is a universal party buff: by taking the Collector Base's power-projection system that supplies and strengthens the Collectors and adapting it to your own tech, the entire team will get a 10% bonus to shields and weapon strength. Okeer's approach is more aggressive and brutal: a bio-warfare agent to be dispersed across the base ventilation system that will impede the Collectors, but especially limit Harbinger: all Collectors have a 10% health and barrier reduction, and Harbinger's Direct Control has a 20% chance of instantly killing the Collector he tries to possess.
The cost of a good specialist is... listening to them boast about how brilliant they were afterwards, really. A little strut in their walk as they pass the other scientist, should they both survive. More practically, neither can be used afterwards in any position at all because they go back to the Normandy with the crew. The science specialist always survives, loyal or not.
The cost of a bad specialist is the death of the second team leader during the second phase: bogged down in heavy Collector resistance, the team leader will die after getting the team through. Note that this does not change the team-leader's performance in regards to the survival of anyone else: a good team leader will still not lose any companions, while a bad team leader will still lose (only) one.
The boarding specialist serves a new role entirely, during the second-phase of the operation. After the science-specialist has been selected, EDI alerts Shepard that the Collector Cruiser, while dead in the water, is still showing signs of a functioning computer network. If EDI could gain access to the Collector Cruiser's on-board computer network, she could use the contents of its systems to help her take over the Collector Base systems. However, scans show that the artificial gravity has been taken off-line, and also that there are still plenty of live Collectors on board the ship: this will be a zero-gravity, high-combat environment.
Jacob, Tali, and Grunt are the best specialists: Jacob's experience as a corsair (and even his recruitment mission) included ship-boarding operations, Tali's zero-g expertise is from Migrant Fleet life and training, and Grunt has been pod-trained in zero-gravity fighting (something he and Okeer will tell Shepard if Shepard has talked to them). Though everyone on the team has been through basic low-g combat, no one else has this sort of training. There are caveats: as a prime-candidate for team leader, Jacob may have already been wounded. Tali may have died during the vent sequence. Grunt's specialization is established in on-Normandy dialogue, but at this point Grunt will say that he wants someone else to go because he dislikes zero-g wants to fight on the station, he can crush Collectors under his heel. Grunt is thus a false-negative flag: he is valid, but will give a 'hint' that he isn't.
The cost of a good specialist is that they can not be used later in the suicide mission. Though they survive and make a dramatic zero-g re-docking with the Normandy after jumping out of an exploding Collector Cruiser, they (along with the science specialist) are away from the fight and can't go back. Whoever you send is gone for the rest of the mission.
The cost of a bad specialist is that they die. They succeed in their objective, but never make it off the Collector Cruiser.
This one goes out to all the Thane-fans out there, who never got a mission role to use him for. (Also, Morinth and Legion apply.) This new specialization is actually optional and merely potential... to an extent.
After Shepard completes the long-walk with the biotic specialist and re-connects with the second team, EDI tells us that her studies of the Collector computer network have revealed something to her: rather than possess any Collector from all the way in Dark Space, Harbinger uses a particular Collector, the Collector General, as a conduit for his Direct Control. If EDI's readings are right (which they are, but she's not sure), she may know where the Collector General is, and that he's being moved. If he can be killed in transit, Harbinger will be unable to possess any more Collectors.
The catch? Whoever goes will have to go deep into un-cleared parts of the base, take up a position, and wait for an opportunity in which the General lets down his guard as he tries to possess another Collector. This is more than a single shot: this is the dedication, patience, and ability to stalk a target and know just when it's time to end a life. Anyone who moves at the wrong time will be blocked by the General's barriers, or be detected. So it takes more than a sniper rife. Only people capable of cold-blooded (or no-blooded) killing need apply: moralists or impatient persons need not apply. Yes, Garrus is the false-flag, as here his impatience will get the worst of him.
The cost of a good specialist is that the Assassin dies, cut off by Collectors and unable to make it to the fall-back point before the base's blast wave is triggered. Their sacrifice is not without meaning, however: Harbinger is gone for the mission finale, including the final boss fight.
The cost of a bad specialist is that the Assassin fails to kill the Collector General, only wounding him, and then dies. Harbinger spawns during the final battle, but only once per wave. Harbinger does not 'transfer' to a pre-existing Collector from the same wave.
But hey! Specialist dying either way isn't fun, right? And didn't I say sending a specialist was optional, if Shepard didn't trust EDI? So, technically, couldn't you pass on the Assassination mission? Sure.
The cost of not making any attempt at all is that the Collector General is alive and unharmed, right as Shepard is trying to take down the Reaper and then get out of there. During the final battle, Harbinger spawns much more frequently as it tries to stop Shepard, making the battle a good deal more difficult. During the 'we must get away!' cinematic, however, the real cost weighs in: Harbinger is among the Collectors that pursue Shepard's team, and Harbinger is able to take down both of Shepard's team-mates that Shepard fought the final battle with, if they survived the Fall.
The Vanguards are a replacement for the Hold the Line at the last-phase of the Suicide Mission, chosen just after Shepard decides the Assassination specialist. As Shepard's team makes the final push ahead, the rest of the surviving members (always at least one at this point if maximum-loss is persued) need to hold back the Collectors for Shepard.. and so that anyone else can retreat back to the Normandy, while they hold the line. This is a suicide assignment: no question, no negotiation. Anyone told to hold the line as the Vanguards of our victory will say their goodbye's now, because they ain't coming back.
Even if Shepard pursues maximum loss of companions, there is always at least one companion left to hold the line. Whoever Shepard doesn't take personally will be Vanguard by default. If there are more, then Shepard will select his team, and select two vanguards.
The twist about the Vanguard specialist is that there are no 'dominant' specialists. There are two qualifications for a good Vanguard: is the companion loyal, and are they unharmed. If the answer is 'yes' to both for both characters... congratulations. You have a solid vanguard. You could have Samara the Justicar facing down impossible odds side by side with the Cerberus-Loyalist Miranda. Soon-to-die Thane can stand by the younger Jacob Taylor. Or maybe Tali, all alone, will hold back the Collector tide. Aim for the optics, Chikita!
The costs of a good pair of vanguards is that they die. Simple as that. From Grunt to Garrus, Mordin to Morinth, whoever you leave behind will die. No variation and no appeal. You go into the choice having been explicitly told they will die holding the line, and they will. They're final moments are shown as they fight to the end, being overrun by husks, scions, and finally overwhelmed by a Praetorian.
The costs of a bad pair of vanguards, or just one vanguard, is that not only do they die but any other survivors won't make it back to the Normandy as well. If just one vanguard is not good, the pair fails. You could very well lose nearly half of Shepard's team from this decision alone if you choose badly at just this one event. To top it off, the bad vanguards can't keep the Collectors off Shepard: the Collectors receive an additional number of drones in each wave, giving Shepard more to shoot at and more to be shot by.
How this progresses:
Team Leader (1) - Vents
| Shepard Sequence One
Team Leader (2) - Science - Biotic - Boarding
| Shepard and the Long Walk
Assassin - Vanguards
| Human Reaper finale (and the Fall)
How does this play out?
Bloodily. The first sign that things don't necessarily go as plan is when the tech specialist burns alive, even on a good selection. While Legion might scream less than Tali, the prospect at the start that you can get them out, and then the failure to do so because of something as basic as a sealed hatch, takes away any heroic high from the cinematic of making it to the base at all. (Which, by the way, no longer has the 'did you buy this tech' checks: too many die already as it is.)
Out of eleven companions, you will always lose four at a minimum: one in the Vents, two Vanguards, and choosing to send an Assassin or Shepard's two team members to Harbinger. This is the 'best' playthrough, mind you. All the best choices, and even Commander Shepard loses a third of his or her command: Butchers of Torfan certainly get a nod here.
But losses don't mean you did badly. Doing badly has you lose far more. Two for bad team leaders, one in the vents, one for the biotics, one for the science, one for the ship boarding:six members, over half your team, even before the Vanguards and Assassin. Factor in the Fall, where harmed/unloyal companions die there, and total-death for the party is very, very possible no matter how loyal everyone is.
Make no mistake. This is not a finale that panders to the player's ego by telling them how awesome they are for getting the 'No One Left Behind' achievement: the reward for only losing four is 'Minimal Losses.' This is war, and a war against the only truly undefeated enemy in the galaxy's existence. No one gets by without losing something, even if the best choices are made.
You can win. But your victory will be won by blood and sweat and maybe some tears. It won't be handed to you for the cost of upgrade-resources and a few easy decisions.
But there's always a bright side. There are no deaths in the approach to the base itself, while the crew that was captured will always be picked up with the scientist. The only factor is 'how soon did you do it' to determine if the fair Kelly Chambers lives or not, but good old Chakwas will always survive.
Why have such a bloody Suicide Mission?
Well, to start with, it's a suicide mission. While I know many who disagree, I am a firm believer that the only thing less plausible than overcoming impossible odds is overcoming impossible odds without significant costs. And it's also one of the themes of Renegade Reinterpretations: victory comes with sacrifice. People, ideals, whatever. Shepard lost a team member to Saren on Virmire, and the Collector Base was supposed to be far worse than that. Now it is.
One aspect about character death that undermines the effects of 'optional' deaths is that people feel like any avoidable character death is a punishment. Often it is: less story, less satisfying substitues, or simple lack of content. A good example is Wrex and Wreave: in ME2, Wrex's substitute is not only worse for the galaxy and the Krogan, but he's also worse for the player: none of the Wrex-awesome. It's definitely the 'worse' alternative. But when a character death is absolutely unavoidable no matter what, it loses much of its weight due to foreshadowing and unavoidability: it's far harder to hold weight, and can become the cheap sympathy gimmick. Who felt bad about the death of Nihlus?
But when deach is affectable, but not avoidable, you get into some pretty potent territory. The reason that Virmire stands out in ME1 is because of the Ash/Kaiden decision, not Wrex. Wrex's death is avoidable, easily so: have the persuasion check, or do his quest. Once you know about it, it's easy to avoid, and so choosing the 'bad' alternative and killing Wrex has to be a deliberate choice. The same applies with deaths in the Suicide Mission of ME2. But with Ashley and Kaiden, it isn't avoidable: no matter how well you fight, how high your paragon/renegade bar, how awesome your upgrades, someone will die. But the player is still involved: the one who dies is up to you and your influences. Neither Ash or Kaiden is guaranteed to die, but one of them has to.
Of course, this isn't hard for everyone. Some people hate one or the other. Understandable, and unavoidable. If you like one but not the other, it's hardly tough. But with the suicide mission, you have a larger group of people, and a larger group of potential sacrifices: while it may be easy to not care about any one of them, few people will want to see a third of the characters bite the dust. Fewer still will be able to easily arrange which third will: imagine the people who try and leave two unloyal/wounded Vanguards to cover the retreat because they want them to die, only to lose all their survivors as well.
Hands up: who romanced a character their first time, and then stuck them as a mission specialist because you thought they were awesome and you wanted them to prove it? Wrestled with Garrus, and then put him as team leader both times? Did snu-snu with Tali, and then trusted her to do the vents and get you through safely?
Now, who would be affected by hearing Tali burn alive in the vents so soon after a romance scene? Or trusting Garrus to keep it up as a fire team leader twice, only to see him fail? Or someone who romanced Thane and sent him as the Assassin, believing that somehow he'd survive certain death?
There's an element of unpredictability, unexpected results, and far more variation to make the mission feel dangerous. The Suicide Mission is no longer 'did you have everyone's loyalty and pick obvious best choices for a perfect ending': when perfection is impossible, and there is no shame in losing people, the question is preference and results.
Ask not 'did you lose anyone': instead ask 'who did you lose.' The first is a question of success and failure: the second has no stigma.
Did you not just read them?
So, people who played through it in their heads. How did you play through the suicide mission as you were reading it? Who did you choose... and who died as a result?
We're nearing the very end of Reinterpretations. And by 'nearing,' today I'm making a special end-phase change, to extend it to the end of the week.
Updates at this point will be larger, but every other day until finish (as you just endured). There will be some big thoughts, and bigger speculation as to effects going into ME3.